Many Spurs fans argued that André Villas-Boas should have been given more time after his relatively disastrous Autumn of discontent last season, but the run of games leading up to his departure would have made grim viewing for Daniel Levy and the Tottenham Hotspur board. Notable 6-0 and 5-0 tonkings by Manchester City and Liverpool aside, one home win in six games and 15 goals in 16 games is not the form of a top half side, let alone a team with Champions League aspirations. AVB’s patient and probing brand of football from the previous season had slowly turned into a thoroughly predictable and dour affair, undoubtedly exacerbated by the scattergun addition of the seven big money signings which were expected to go straight into the first team and fill the void left by Gareth Bale.
The appointment of the 59% win ratio wizard and #properfootballman Tim Sherwood saw considerably more goals and the revival of Emmanuel Adebayor, but defensive frailties remained, particularly in the suicidal 4-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge. An inability to edit himself in press conferences and a general lack of political nous paved the way for the inevitable sacking of Sherwood, and now Levy has turned to the former Southampton and Espanyol boss Mauricio Pochettino to propel Spurs back into the promised land of the Champions League. On the face of it, it’s a sensible appointment – last season Pochettino’s Southampton side played not only the sort of football that Spurs fans see as being ‘The Spurs Way’, but also managed respectable results against the top five, beating Everton at St. Mary’s and becoming the only team apart from Chelsea to win against Liverpool at Anfield. Spurs’ hopes of success this season will hinge on the suave Argentine getting them to play as a team again, and his ability to get anything out of the expensive misfiring duo of Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela.
Last Season: 6th
In: Ben Davies (Swansea, Undisc.), Michel Vorm (Swansea, 3.5M), Eric Dier (Sporting Lisbon, 4M)
Out: Gylfi Sigurðsson (Swansea, Undisc.), Heurelho Gomes (Released), Jake Livermore (Hull, 8M), Iago Falque (Genoa, 4M).
Probably the biggest and most unexpected incoming during Spurs’ off-season has been the air of relative calm amongst Spurs fans. Expectations for the coming season are relatively low, and there is a genuine belief that Pochettino can get a group of players who so underwhelmed last season to play the kind of high-tempo, pressing game that White Hart Lane regulars want to see. What’s more, Spurs’ early business in the transfer window seems to make a suspicious and uncharacteristic amount of sense.
Whilst Gylfi Sigurðsson became something of a cult figure at White Hart Lane and always, to paraphrase from a former Tottenham manager, ‘ran about a bit’, it never really clicked for him at Spurs, and a deal taking him back to the Liberty Stadium where he enjoyed such early success in the Premier League and sending Ben Davies in the opposite direction suits both parties. Davies – an actual, real life left back – will provide genuine competition for the haphazard and inconsistent Danny Rose, and an alternative to Jan “I don’t want to play there” Vertonghen. Michel Vorm offers a viable sweeper-keeper alternative to Hugo Lloris, who – with the greatest of respect to the veteran American – is not likely to be kept on his toes by 43 year old Brad Friedel. Elsewhere, the Cheltenham-born Eric Dier arrives from Sporting Lisbon as an alternative to the Hull-bound Michael Dawson and the permanently-crocked Younès Kaboul. No transfers that are likely to get Jim White’s pulse racing, but it sure as hell beats last season’s Football Manager chequebook approach.
Whilst it’ll be interesting to see just how much Pochettino can coax out of his compatriot Erik Lamela, one player which Spurs will be happy to see stay this summer is Christian Eriksen. The Dane shrugged off an inconsistent start to last season to become one of Spurs’ key players in the run in, contributing just under a quarter of Tottenham’s total assists for the season (8 out of a miserly 33). His set piece-delivery, technical ability and tendency to drift into space make him seem almost like a ready-made Lallana replacement for Pochettino, who will surely expect a higher defensive work-rate than Sherwood. Gary Neville mused last season why none of Europe’s top clubs were in for Eriksen, something which was in-part answered by his so-so form at the beginning of the campaign and early struggles to adapt to the physicality of the league. If he can maintain his form and become the heartbeat of Pochettino’s Spurs, then Levy’s £12M spend on the Dane will seem like a steal.
One to Watch
The one upshot to having a debut season in English football as utterly miserable as Erik Lamela’s was that, frankly, things can only get better. A total of nine appearances and zero goals in the Premier League last year was not the start that the £30M man or indeed Spurs would have wanted, and yet history shows that Lamela does not hit the ground running. Whilst he had a brilliant 2012/13 campaign for Roma, setting up five goals and scoring 15 in 31 appearances, his first season in Serie A was one to forget, where he scored four goals in the same number of appearances. It obviously hasn’t happened for him yet at Spurs, but Pochettino will be hoping that his fellow Argentine can show his true colours in the coming season.
It’s probably a good thing that expectations amongst Spurs fans are relatively low this season. The resurgence of Arsenal combined with a Manchester United side that simply cannot be as woeful as last season points to a top four finish being a practical impossibility for Spurs, who might have to concede that winning the gruelling, joy-sapping harbinger of injuries that is the Europa League holds their only realistic chance of Champions League qualification. Still, providing Levy hasn’t exercised his itchy trigger finger by Xmas, Spurs fans can look forward to a season of exciting, attacking football, and not to have to wince every time the big teams come to White Hart Lane. 6th place and plenty of reasons to be cheerful
BPF Prediction: 6th
Written by Andrew Lemon / @_andrewlemon_